Thursday, March 30, 2017

Past time to honor the people

The rain stayed South of us yesterday and last night. The clouds didn't. They're still filling the sky today. Climate and weather scientists reminded us that warmer air holds more moisture. That may help explain why we've had what seems to be a disproportionate number of cloudy days. If, after a Minnesota Winter, you're trying to shake a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder, cloudy Spring days are not what the doctor ordered, especially when they don't even bring rain.

a Red Bird can brighten the day
a Red Bird can brighten the day
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, sometimes on a cloudy day a male cardinal will come to the feeder or perch in some nearby trees. A very bright splash of red is almost as good as a burst of Spring sunshine for bringing cheeriness to the landscape. In fact, a cardinal can be such a source of inspiration that Mary Oliver has written a book of poems titled Red Bird. We had a Red Bird visit this morning. He brought cheer that helped offset the literal clouds above and the figurative clouds over the national and state capitals. As the Red Bird himself tells us, “For truly the body needs / a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, / the soul has need of a body, / and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable / beauty of heaven / where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, / and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.” This lesson is one of many we can learn during National Poetry Month, which starts this Saturday on April 1 (no, this isn't an April Fool's joke).

Another lesson, particularly appropriate for these trying times, can be learned from the late Adrienne Rich, a compelling and influential poet who died five years ago today. In 1997, she refused to accept the National Medal for the Arts from the Clinton Administration
“because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. … There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
If the current administration gets its way, there'll be no Medal to award. It has proposed no funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. For the record, it's almost as if Rich foresaw the times we're living in, as well as witnessing times we hoped were past.

For the Record


The clouds and the stars didn't wage this war
the brooks gave no information
if the mountain spewed stones of fire into the river
it was not taking sides
the raindrop faintly swaying under the leaf
had no political opinions

and if here or there a house
filled with backed-up raw sewage
or poisoned those who lived there
with slow fumes, over years
the houses were not at war
nor did the tinned-up buildings

intend to refuse shelter
to homeless old women and roaming children
they had no policy to keep them roaming
or dying, no, the cities were not the problem
the bridges were non-partisan
the freeways burned, but not with hatred

Even the miles of barbed-wire
stretched around crouching temporary huts
designed to keep the unwanted
at a safe distance, out of sight
even the boards that had to absorb
year upon year, so many human sounds

so many depths of vomit, tears
slow-soaking blood
had not offered themselves for this
The trees didn't volunteer to be cut into boards
nor the thorns for tearing flesh
Look around at all of it

and ask whose signature
is stamped on the orders, traced
in the corner of the building plans
Ask where the illiterate, big-bellied
women were, the drunks and crazies,
the ones you fear most of all: ask where you were.


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